Monday, January 9, 2012

52 Week 2 - Steve Biko: A Martyr for Freedom

He wrote what he liked...

It’s a tragedy to die young, but when one dies a martyr, it can be the catalyst for the incredible change that could never have happened otherwise. Sometimes standing up for what you believe in leads to the inevitable conclusion of having to give your life for it.

It’s hard to believe, but Apartheid ended barely more than 20 years ago. Watching documentaries and reading books about it, the same names always show up. Don’t get me wrong, they come up for a reason. They were all truly great, but I’ve always liked to find my own heroes. No one likes to be told who they should admire, and I’m no different.  He is one of the more forgotten members of the anti-apartheid legion, and that’s unfortunate.

Steve Biko was a South African anti-apartheid activist who was active in the ‘60s and ‘70s and is well known for being one of the founders of the Black Consciousness movement. His work was integral in mobilizing urban youth against apartheid.  Despite being banned from speaking publicly or meeting with more than one person at a time by the regime, he was crucial in organizing the Soweto uprising protests in which school children were shot and killed while protesting for basic civil rights. 

Shortly after, he was arrested, brutally tortured and beaten while in police custody and he died shortly after. He became much more famous in death than he’d ever been in life, but that is an indictment of society, not him. It’s sad, but his death and martyrdom inevitably led to a dilution of his message. He has been celebrated however, quite extensively, both in South Africa and abroad, and he has a significant presence in popular culture (the movie ‘Cry Freedom’ for instance). His autobiography, ‘I write what I like’ is a must read, and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a somber, yet uplifting read. 

What I admire most about him was how uncompromising he was. When one is being denied your basic human rights, compromising your ideals is criminal. The halfway point between tyranny and justice is still tyranny, and Steve Biko knew that quite well. He saw his death and he faced it without flinching. How many of us could boast such a thing?

Best Quote
You are either alive and proud or you are dead, and when you are dead, you can't care anyway.

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